The Indian collection Pierre Jeanneret Chandigarh has allowed the world to discover his unrecognised genius!
The Esprit Nouveau table for Maison La Roche, the elegant ash-coloured Casiers Standard and revelational Chaise Longue LC4. In the collective imagination, the linearity of these quintessential designs has been inextricably tied to the genius of Charles-Edouard Jeanneret-Gris, better known as monsieur Le Corbusier.
However, the architect from La Chaux-de-Fonds certainly did not create his masterpieces entirely alone. Indeed, as noted in the Cassina catalogue, two other great design names cooperated with the Swiss architect and designer in his tubular experiments: Pierre Jeanneret and Charlotte Perriand.
If Perriand’s name promptly tickles our memory, reminding us of the oriental divertissement of her Indochine Chair, and of the avant-garde modularity of her Nuage bookshelf, the name of Pierre Jeanneret, on the other hand, appears more obscure and unfamiliar.
Cousin of Le Corbusier himself and long-forgotten artist, today Jeanneret represents a fascinating case of authorial rediscovery, almost sixty years after his passing in Geneva in 1967.
Almost resembling the story of the acclaimed Vivian Maier, the nanny-photographer whose photographs were accidentally discovered in an Illinois attic in 2007, information regarding the work of the unacknowledged Genevan architect remained largely limited to the 40-year collaboration with his better-known cousin. This was until the 1990s, when some local Indian merchants visited Chandigarh.
Here, between the boulevards’ porches - prime examples of rationalist architecture - and the impeccable harmony of the city’s institutional spaces - left untouched since the 1950s - the small group of merchants discovered what we not only may, but must, call a treasure.
Situated at the foot of the Sivalik Hills, a sub-himalayan mountain range, is Chandigarh, signifying “the house of Chandi”. Named after the saving divinity honored in the Panchkula district, the city was esteemed ever since its establishment in 1953, on account of having Le Corbusier as its creator.
As a matter of fact, however, the leading figure of modernism only visited the Punjab capital and Haryana sporadically, giving instead his trusted cousin Pierre Jeanneret the freedom to plan and design. Jeanneret, in fact, moved to the region and lived there for over a decade.
The time he spent living in what was soon to become one of the richest metropolis of northern India greatly influenced Pierre’s European architectural education. Consequently, his design became an exceptionally original and expressive melting pot, characterised by the juxtaposition of local materials and techniques - in particular, the extensive use of the indigenous art of rattan - and the typical structure of european architecture.
Pierre Jeanneret Chandigarh, Chandigarh Pierre Jeanneret. The connection between the city and the designer was so profound that it sublimated into a spiritual understanding of one another. Jeanneret translated this into something more concrete through his designs, that became the products of a creative genius at his most fertile.
The most impressive part of the merchants’ lucky discovery in the late 90s was, in fact, the richness of a production capable to go from the design of seatings for institutional and public spaces to the furnishing of private sleeping areas.
The tone of the entire collection is set by the majestic Kangaroo Chair, a piece of colonial-style furniture that through its solid rosewood structure, exalts the delicate ivory of the wicker, recalling the colours of the Indian elephant.
By making ample use of double sided design - particularly when designing the decor for public and civic use - Jeanneret’s works from his time in India play with shapes and perspectives, consequently creating sculpture-like furniture, that seems to have no front and no back.
Both the Double Sided Bookcase, made in teak - a prime low-cost material used by the local craftsmen -, and the Demountable Desk are iconic works of the Pierre Jeanneret Chandigarh collection. They incorporate straight lines, serpentine shapes and soft angles. The Demountable Desk, a design created especially for the Museum and the Cultural Centre in Chandigarh, exposes the Genevan designer’s merging of his modernist formation and oriental infatuation.
Using exclusively X, U and V compositions, the Pierre Jeanneret Chandigarh collection is not currently being manufactured by any brand. Hence, the only chance to grab hold of one of his iconic designs is through vintage collectors and sellers.
Here is a quick top 5 of the most treasured pieces from the Pierre Jeanneret Chandigarh archive:
5. Senate Armchair in teak.
Designed for the Secretariat Building in Chandigarh, the extraordinary armchair’s solid teak structure is enhanced by the yellow cavallino leather.
4. Dormeuse in teak.
Produced in India between 1952 and 1956, the eccentric hybrid sofa by Jeanneret reutilises materials previously used for the production of the Senate Armchair, but opts instead for a forest green upholstery.
3. Public Bench.
Amid the V-shaped leg seatings of the Pierre Jeanneret Chandigarh collection, this incredible example of furniture destined for public use stands out for the comfort of its padded supports and the elegant matching of the wood’s bistre with the midnight-blue tanning of the leather hides.
2 and 1. The Library Reading Table and the Newspaper Bookcase.
The podium is shared by two products which are worth today as much as they weigh!
While the allure of the elegant writing desk in Indian wood is undeniable, it is surpassed, in our view, by the historical importance of the second piece. Devised for Chandigarh’s Public Library, the Newspaper Bookcase by Pierre Jeanneret is made in solid teak and veneered wood and is equipped with 20 adjustable aluminium shelves that serve to display the newspapers. It is indeed an important testimony to the process of democratisation that was taking place in the - then newborn - Indian federal state.
Written by Marco Colombo for Sag80 Group